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FAI takes legal advice over report


It is alleged that Ireland players were paid not to tackle Lionel Messi

It is alleged that Ireland players were paid not to tackle Lionel Messi

It is alleged that Ireland players were paid not to tackle Lionel Messi

Irish football chiefs are taking legal advice over claims that Republic of Ireland players were paid 10,000 US dollars each not to tackle Argentina star Lionel Messi during a 2010 friendly.

The Football Association of Ireland has described the allegations, made in La Nacion in South America, as "baseless" and have vowed to take the matter further.

Argentina travelled to Dublin in August 2010 to play the Republic in a friendly to officially open the new Aviva Stadium - the report suggests in part to help compensate the FAI for the nation's controversial World Cup play-off exit in France nine months earlier.

An FAI statement said: "The Football Association of Ireland completely refutes the allegations made about the Republic of Ireland v Argentina friendly match in La Nacion as baseless.

"The match in question was organised by Kentaro and announced by press release prior to the World Cup play-offs in 2009. We are consulting our legal advisers in relation to the article, and will be taking further steps."

The report claims the late Julio Grondona, then president of the Argentina Football Association and senior FIFA vice-president, suggested to FIFA counterpart Sepp Blatter that the Argentinian team should head for Dublin.

However, it alleges that Messi's club Barcelona were unhappy with the arrangement and with an insurance quote for the game coming in at five million US dollars, it was decided to adopt the less costly policy of paying the Ireland players to go easy on the visitors' star man.

The game, in which captain Robbie Keane won his 100th senior international cap, ended 1-0 with Angel di Maria scoring the only goal in front of a crowd of 45,200.

The FAI found itself thrust into the limelight earlier this month after chief executive John Delaney confirmed it had received a loan, later written off, of five million euros from FIFA in the wake of the Republic's play-off heartbreak at the Stade de France.

Delaney claimed the payment, which was used to offset the cost of redeveloping the old Lansdowne Road stadium, had been made after he and Blatter had entered into a deal under which the Irish governing body would not take legal action over the goal which handed France their ticket to South Africa after referee Martin Hansson and his assistants failed to spot Thierry Henry's handball in the build-up.

The confidentiality agreement between the two parties, which was released by the FAI in a bid to clarify the situation, described the payment as an "inducement" not to enter into litigation.

Full-back Kevin Kilbane, who played in the game, later insisted he did not receive any payment or instruction to stay away from Messi.

Kilbane told TV3: "I am totally unaware of it. There was no suggestion around the game that we were to stay clear of Lionel Messi, and of course none of the players received any money as payment regarding this.

"It's total news to me and I'm sure it will be news to a lot of the other lads as well.

"It's quite poor. There have been a lot of allegations over the last month or so aimed at us. Mud sticks, I suppose, and it's not nice when these sort of allegations are being thrown against the players.

"It's basically questioning us as professionals, it's questioning us as people as well. But again, none of the players - I certainly didn't take any money regarding this, and there's nothing else really that I can add to it."

Indeed, Kilbane admitted the claims had taken some of the gloss off what was a big occasion for Irish football.

He added: "To us, it was a big occasion because it was the opening of the Aviva. We lost the game - I think it was Di Maria who scored the goal, as it turned out - and it was a great occasion to be part of, the first ever game at the Aviva.

"It was in many respects going back to Lansdowne Road - it's where we felt as though our football home was - so for these sort of allegations to come out around it, it certainly makes me feel a little bit uneasy.

"It does seem to me like someone has come up with a story or a theory. Two and two make 10, I suppose. That's the only thing I can think of regarding it.

"It seems to me they have looked at what's happened over the last month, they have looked at the allegations that have been made against us and they have come up with a theory. Again, I totally refute it, totally deny it."

PA Media